During the early part of our quarantine, I decided to revisit my “finishers list” in order to use these next weeks in a fruitful way. I’m great at starting projects. However, many times I need to set them down for more pressing matters or I get distracted or lose enthusiasm part way through. When I stop to look around, I’m surrounded by a host of unfinished endeavors. Three years ago, a friend who’s good at follow-through suggested I write a finishers list to catalogue my unfinished projects and set goals to complete them. I made my list and methodically worked through it until I had just one item left — two quilts I’d started for my girls’ beds.
It has been a busy three years since I last visited this final project on my finishers list. Our family completed a cross-country move, worked to adjust to a new home, then endured Rob’s death. Now we’re adjusting to a new life with grief. COVID-19 has provided me with homebound days and extra time to breathe, and I thought it might be a great time to tackle this final project.
Recently, I pulled out one of the unfinished quilts and got to work. I love the steady, quiet work of quilting — taking a stack of squares and making them orderly. Quilting is its own kind of math, and my brain finds it relaxing. The activity gives me time to think, so I thought I’d do double duty and listen to Pioneers by David McCullough, an audiobook Rob downloaded just a month before he died.
As the sonorous voice of John Bedford Lloyd carried me away to the late 1700s, I couldn’t help but think of Rob. On road trips with the kids, we always listened to audiobooks in the car. The morning we shoved off, Rob would hop into the driver’s seat with a generous stack in his hand. A book lover, Rob always had high expectations for what we could complete. We listened to Garrison Keillor, novels, biographies of presidents, and — our family favorite — an epic eight-CD set chronicling the cross-country journey of Lewis and Clark. While I suspect the content was sometimes over our kids’ heads, they listened enthusiastically. History audiobooks especially became synonymous with Moll family travel; we never hit the road without one.
Even though it isn’t Rob’s voice I hear when I turn on Audible, he still feels close when I sit and listen to history as I quilt. I imagine I’m not in quarantine, but in our truck instead. Pulling our trailer. Driving across one of his favorite stretches of I-70 between Green River, Utah, and Grand Junction, Colorado. My feet are propped up on the sun-filled dashboard. The kids draw quietly in the back seats while we listen to the story of the pioneers who settled the west.
It is strange and heartbreaking to think that my life with Rob now constitutes history. That our life together is a finished project. Lately, the finality of his death has weighed on my spirit heavily. Rob’s life is a story that is written now. It has an ending, a conclusion. The completeness of his life still feels impossible to me. I want to shake my fists in frustration and shout at the sky, “There was supposed to be so much more.” More time. More years. More life. A longer history. It shouldn’t be finished yet.
My frustrations with attempting to conjure up Rob’s spirit in our midst make sense. It is impossible to bring him back. I don’t want to look at photographs and watch videos and tell stories. I don’t want to recreate history. I want to build new memories. Of all the projects I could tackle, this is the one I most want to keep working on — this beautiful life he and I created together.
“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” the Psalmist writes. Rob’s story — ours together — was fashioned before I ever knew him. God knew the depth and breadth of Rob’s life before I ever met him. What I see as unfinished, God sees as complete.
Just as mind boggling though, what I see as finished, God knows as incomplete. I perceive Rob’s life with finality; I only see the grave. What does God see? This marvelous One transcends time and history. For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. What I see still through a glass darkly, God and Rob know in completeness. That this little life is not all there is. That the creative work is not yet done. That this sorrow is but a moment in the vast eternity that stretches behind and before it.
Rob may no longer be here, but his story — like mine — is still being written. It is not all past, only history. Instead, Rob enjoys a glorious present with the communion of saints, to which I also belong now and not yet. If there is anything of Rob’s life that is finished, it is simply a chapter, a part of a whole so large I cannot yet take it in.